Soil - The Plants Support System

By Kent Higgins

Soil for foliage plants falls into three chief types. Ordinary potting soil should be porous and well drained. It contains approximately equal parts of good topsoil, coarse sand and organic matter (leafmold, humus or peatmoss) with about an eighth part by bulk of dried cow manure and bonemeal - a pint to each bushel of the mixture. Woodsy soils, for plants that need more organic matter, are similar but contain about twice as much leafmold, humus or peat-moss. Very porous soils that are useful for snake plants and other semi-succulent and succulent plants are simply the ordinary soil mixture with the addition of half-inch pieces of broken brick or flower pots equal to the amount of sand used.

Potting and repotting should be done, if needed, at the beginning of the growing season, which is usually late winter or early spring. Many plants need this attention once a year. Large specimens and smaller examples of slow-growing plants may go several years without repotting. In intervening years they are top-dressed by removing as much of the surface soil as can be taken off without damaging the roots and replacing it with a new, rich mixture. Small-sized, young plants of fast-growing kinds may need a second potting in summer, early enough for them to fill their new containers with roots before winter.

Increase of foliage plants is secured in several ways. The division of large specimens into two or more smaller ones at potting time is a simple and obvious method in some cases. Certain kinds produce baby plants as offsets which can be detached and started as separate individuals. Stem cuttings and, in a few cases, leaf cuttings, usually planted in sand or vermiculite in a terrarium or under an inverted Mason jar, allow for the simple propagation of many plants. Spring and summer are the seasons most suitable for inserting cuttings.

Air-layering is an easy way of securing young plants from tall-stemmed specimens that have become too "leggy" to be attractive. A good example is the gold dust plant. This consists of injuring a stem some distance below its leafy tip, either by removing a narrow circle of bark around it or by making a cut into it in an upward direction and almost halfway through the stem, then pegging the cut open with a sliver of wood. Next, a generous bundle of moist sphagnum moss is bound around the cut and the moss wrapped securely in polyethylene plastic film.

After the injured stem has rooted well into the moss, the upper portion with roots attached is cut off. After the plastic film has been removed, the rooted portion is planted in a pot to establish itself as a new young plant. - 29857

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